"My passion as a director is rooted in the work that I do with writers and actors." - National Theatre Wales

“My passion as a director is rooted in the work that I do with writers and actors.”

June 7, 2019

Back in 2009, I was one of many who waited eagerly for the launch of my National Theatre. As a lecturer in Further Education, I used to teach a module that asked students to describe what a National Theatre for Wales would look like. I loved the response. It was often divided, confrontational at times, but always passionate. So, on that day I couldn’t wait to see what form it would take and how it would become part of our lives.

I didn’t know then what a profound impact NTW would have on my own development as a director, from the opportunities as Emerging Director to a residency at the NT Studio in London. I feel that the pathway to where I am now in my confidence and sense of trying to go beyond the expected has been lit along the way by that NTW lightbox sign saying ‘this way, come on, you can do more than that’.

So, you can probably guess, that my current role as Associate Director with the company, gives me a spring in my step and an incredible sense of purpose that makes me very happy. Those that know me, or have ever asked for interview advice, or preparation for a speech etc. know that I love to whip out the “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die” quote by George Bernard Shaw. It is my go to mantra that seems to fit for any moment where purpose is required. I know all too well how easy it is to lose my way, to meander around purpose for fear of failing or judgement. But I also know that as the daughter of a steel worker who came home looking shattered, like he’d done a shift, that making theatre is a privilege and one that must be embraced with purpose no matter what.

With my hand on my heart, this sense of being thoroughly used up (in a good way) is definitely one that has shaped my role with the company so far. Every day is varied and offers a new challenge or focus. I am an enabler, a conduit, a support, a creative sounding board. I isten and respond, research and contribute, steer and drive. I love being part of a team that really cares, where we all have a different skill set and perspective but come together to make something for others to receive.

There is the production side of things, so far, supporting Mike Brookes on Storm 3 and directing Cotton Fingers for touring as well as responding to projects in development for 2020 and beyond. Another part of this role is the ongoing professional development of theatre makers in Wales though BBC Welsh Voices, Emerging Directors, Located Residencies and Research & Development. I’ve really enjoyed reading and responding to the plays that the Welsh Voices group are making, getting a real sense of their unique voices and having time to interrogate this. The sessions that I’ve had with our Emerging directors have been so inspiring. A platform to consider how we describe our work to those who haven’t experienced it yet. To really question what we need to keep on moving forwards and how we overcome the barriers stopping us. This supportive and critical network feels vital. In the recent Creative Conversation, the need for mentoring and connections with other theatre makers was palpable and something I hope can grow in the coming months.

My passion as a director is rooted in the work that I do with writers and actors. How we tell the story, and what it means to us right now. I really love the meetings that I’ve had with brilliant writers, the generosity they have to take a risk and listen to my thoughts on their work. A pattern emerges, again, the need for constructive feedback, platforms to experiment and test writing being a frequent theme in our discussions.

I have joined the company at a particularly exciting time, as a new strategic plan is being formed. There is a real sense that every decision made, every idea explored isn’t about the short term. Looking to the future requires robust thinking and as another voice in these discussions I have really enjoyed my opinions and ideas being challenged and examined in detail. How do we ensure that theatre thrives in Wales? How can a theatre mean something to an entire nation? How do we nurture and support our exceptional creative talent who have a connection to Wales or Welsh (whatever that may mean for each and every one of us).

Thinking practically through this has been one of the highlights of this role so far, I’m a fixer and a doer by nature and have learnt that I often want to race ahead with short term solutions before really thinking about the long term impact. Having the chance to consider how a theatre can serve is something that I am fascinated by and grateful to consider more deeply and again with purpose.

Two years ago, with the support of Wales Arts International, I represented Wales at the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab. I was asked to deliver a session on NTW, to describe the model as we collectively shared ideas around how to make theatre in a time of change. I was amazed at the intrigue that directors from all over the world had in my National Theatre. The notion that theatre is rooted in a community, yet has a national identity really opened up brilliant debate.

Again, I turned to that George Bernard Shaw quote, and the bit that makes my heart sing ‘I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.’ I feel that this time as Associate Director, is encapsulated in that idea. Ultimately, when this role ends and I reflect back, I hope that I can say I did everything I could to make my national theatre thrive, and in doing so, acknowledge that this theatre belongs to us all. It has to be your theatre as much as it is mine, and when we all start calling it our National Theatre, we know that we are doing something right.

Julia Thomas


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